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Overspending on Pet FoodAs much as I love cheeseburgers, I don’t eat them everyday.

They’re delicious, but they’re also pretty damn unhealthy. And I’d like to avoid a slew of cheeseburger-related health problems. I love my cats, so I do the same for them. I don’t buy them junk food. I buy them healthy food, and that usually means it’s a little more expensive.

I don’t mind paying a few extra bucks to keep them healthy, but some pet food brands are overpriced and sneaky. To avoid overspending on pet food, watch out for these five words.

Five sneaky pet food words

According to Consumer Reports, the word “premium” is used by a handful of pet food brands, but it doesn’t mean anything:

“A significant part of the national pet-food bill these days goes for so-called premium and super-premium varieties. But ‘premium‘ has no legal definition in terms of nutritional quality, notes Sarah Abood, D.V.M., a small-animal clinical nutritionist and assistant dean at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.”

Is your pet food “gourmet”? Because that doesn’t mean anything, either. Here’s the FDA guideline that proves it:

“Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.”

Pet site Dog Food Advisor says the word “natural” is another one to watch out for:

“The term ‘natural’ is often used on pet food labels, although that term does not have an official definition either.”

Health site Mercola adds two more:

“Definitions for ‘holistic,’ ‘organic,’ and ‘natural’ pet foods have not been established by AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials], so interpretation of what those words mean in terms of formula ingredients is left up to the manufacturer of the product.”

And here’s another disturbing fact. According to Dog Food Advisor, the following pet food ingredients are perfectly legal:

  • Spoiled supermarket meats
  • Contaminated grain middlings
  • Slaughterhouse waste (organs, heads, hooves, beaks, feet)
  • Bread and cereal rejects (hulls, stalks, mill sweepings)
  • Dying, diseased and disabled farm animals
  • Road kill (deer, skunks, and raccoons)
  • Distiller fermentation waste
  • Euthanized cats and dogs
  • Restaurant grease
  • Dead zoo animals


Pretty freaking disgusting, right? Keep in mind that any of these ingredients can legally be included in gourmet, natural, holistic, organic or premium pet food.

How to choose quality pet food

Consumer Reports suggests getting a food recommendation from your vet. Dog Food Advisor says the only place to find reliable information is the government-regulated part of the pet food label. Mercola advises to look for an adequacy statement from the AAFCO. They also offer specifics on which ingredients to look for and which to avoid.

By all means, pick a decent and healthy brand of food for your pet. Just don’t be fooled by the words premium, gourmet, organic, holistic or natural. They mean nothing.

Photo by FHgitarre.

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13 comments… add one

  • AMW March 10, 2014, 7:25 am

    Great information. It is very important that you choose wisely on the pet food. Sometimes a bargain isn’t a bargain. Once upon a time I had a dog 55 lbs and very hungry. I tried to feed him name brand food available at every grocery store. Bought it with a coupon and I could regulary get it at at decent price. Dog was constantly at the vet to get his anal glands drained (can you say ‘ewwww’???). I switched to a better dog food, which at the time had to be ordered and shipped. New food, never had to go to the vet for anal glands again. It saved us about $250-$350/year. Totally worth spending the money, was a lesson in you get what you pay for. Diet can save you money at the Doctor’s office whether you are animal or human.

    • Kristin Wong March 10, 2014, 8:07 am

      Aww poor guy. You did the right thing. And yes, you have to consider the long-term costs, too!

      My cat was a stray, and I never really thought much about her diet until a friend came over to cat-sit one day and convinced me the food I was giving my cat was really, really bad. I switched to a better brand. Then, one day I tried switching back because I got lured by a really good deal. :( My cat barfed everything up. It reminded me of that scene from Supersize Me, when he eats a double cheeseburger for the first time in years and just vomits.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty March 10, 2014, 8:31 am

    Does this mean that I shouldn’t feed my dog Kibbles-n-Bits? LOL

    • Kristin Wong March 10, 2014, 4:31 pm

      Haha! It’s the ‘n Bits part that scares me.

      • Holly@ClubThrifty March 10, 2014, 6:02 pm

        Well, at this point he’s 12 and has eaten it his whole life. I guess I’ll just stay the course, lol

        • Kristin Wong March 10, 2014, 6:17 pm

          Oh yeah, I’m all for doing what works for you! This is just a small tip for anyone who buys that fancy highfalutin’ pet food. My cat just can’t handle certain foods. And our kitten’s nose started peeling and crusting over and our vet said to change her diet, too. So, unfortunately, the food is a little pricier.

  • Simple Money Concept March 10, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Any comments on Bil-Jac? I took the challenge from a “natural” dog food company and found Bil-Jac only has one common ingredient…

    • Kristin Wong March 10, 2014, 4:35 pm

      Hey! I’ve never heard anything about Bil-Jac, sorry. But there’s an important point here that I should’ve made in the post. Just because a brand uses any of these five words doesn’t automatically mean the brand is bad. A food that says it’s “natural” could very well be decent, despite the marketing. You just have to check those labels and such!

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 11, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Good stuff here! Too many people needlessly spend way too much on dog food because it’s described as premium or gourmet, or because a vet recommended it (like they aren’t lobbied from school to retirement). We avoid all by products, look for things like chicken or lamb meal, and buy sales. Right now, when we buy dry food for the dogs (we also feed raw), we get the Costco brand. It’s got great ingredients, great reviews, and a 50 lbs bag is something like $30.

    • Kristin Wong March 11, 2014, 6:50 pm

      Nice! Yeah, it’s a lot easier to find the true value of something when you know what you’re looking for!

  • Pet Store New Jersey March 26, 2014, 1:09 am

    Don’t let words deceive you! Read all ingredients in your pet’s foods!

  • food for dogs March 26, 2014, 5:12 pm

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  • Ginger May 9, 2014, 10:56 am

    I thought you all might be interested in this. There’s an online fundraiser going on right now that is raising money so that massive pet food testing can be done so that we can all see exactly what is in many of the pet foods out there. This will be huge if enough money is raised. Here’s the link:

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